By Chet Yarbrough
Written by: John A. Farrell
Narrated by: Dan Woren
“So different and so alike” is what comes to mind in listening to John Farrell’s biography of Richard Nixon.
President Nixon is characterized as thin skinned, vindictive, and dissembling; a description echoed by today’s President.
Nixon and Trump appear both misogynistic, and anti-intellectual. Both viscerally react to perceived slights. Both have morally corrupt views of society. Both make comments reflecting ethnic racism with reprehensible private comments. Both attack news publishers; particularly the Washington Post and New York Times.
However, Farrell shows Nixon to be clearly unlike Trump. Nixon understands political and public reality while Trump clings to a skewed business and personal reality.
Nixon avoids unfavorable publicity while Trump manufactures it. Nixon exemplifies international, geo-political, and professional foreign policy while Trump follows an amateurish parochial isolationist foreign policy. Nixon is surreptitiously thuggish, while Trump is outwardly thuggish. Nixon operates from a perspective of power-hungry self-interest, while Trump operates from “monied” self-interest.
Farrell recounts Nixon’s early years of overt and benign support of McCarthyism. Nixon justifies his penchant for exposing communist sympathizers with his successful prosecution of Alger Hiss. (Ironically, Hiss is convicted for a cover-up rather than espionage; just as Nixon is impeached for a cover-up rather than a burglary.) It remains to be seen but, like Nixon, Trump may be impeached for a cover-up of Russian interference in the American electoral process.
Nixon’s campaign for President is grounded on an anti-communist platform while pursuing positive relations with the most populated communist country in the world, China. Trump’s campaign for President is based on the big lie; i.e., the overt support of the poor and middle class while acting to promote the wealthy.
Nixon and Trump have little respect for experts. Nixon demeans Henry Kissinger, a Harvard educated intellectual, who became Nixon’s Secretary of State and a principal in the negotiation for the first SALT agreement with Russia and the opening of Communist China. Trump demeans the scientific community by denying global warming and removing America from the Paris Climate Accord. Trump bullys the President of Montenegro who, despite Russian objection, becomes a part of the NATO alliance. Nixon fires a special prosecutor investigating the Watergate burglary while Trump allegedly contemplates the same action regarding Robert Mueller, the special investigator hired to explore Russian influence in American elections.
On balance, Nixon is shown by Farrell to be much more presidential than Trump but the perspective of history weighs heavily on that assessment. Nixon, like all human beings, is flawed. He is not the first President to lie. He is not the first President to kill innocents.
Ending Vietnam at the expense of South Vietnamese is a mixed blessing but Nixon stopped the carnage. Opening China to the world is a great American accomplishment which history fairly attributes to Nixon and Kissinger. Only time will tell if Trump is more than what he seems.